Big Hairy Audacious Goals and Gartner?

The idea of big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs) was popularized in the early 1990s by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. BHAGs are goals intended to inspire vision beyond the safe and predictable. In the sustainability world, the debate circles around whether ’tis nobler for organizations to set big hairy audacious goals that no one is quite sure how to meet, but which will compel them to get creative to achieve them, or to conservatively set “achievable targets” that leave them in their comfort zone.

In my years of attending Gartner’s IT Finance, Procurement and Asset Management summit, I would have characterized the conference content as being traditionally on the conservative side – tight controls, promoting predictable processes for predictable results. So I was more than a little surprised by some of the themes (including BHAGs) that emerged at this year’s summit.

I remember last year listening to analysts striking fear into the hearts of corporate buyers and vendor managers around “click agreements” that can leave unwitting organizations liable to terms not vetted through corporate controls or vulnerable from leveraging unbacked, unvalidated technologies that could disappear overnight. This year I heard that something is not a differentiator if everybody else can buy it too – so you need to be on that bleeding edge if you want to gain competitive advantage. “Embrace shadow IT,” they touted.

But there’s risk, and then there’s RISK. I agree that real innovation can only happen in an environment that’s tolerant of failure, because without genuine experimentation, one stays safely within the bounds of the known. Real progress needs to break through known barriers, and that’s rarely achieved in one go. Experiment. Fail. Learn. Try again. But can’t that also be done without leaving an organization unnecessarily vulnerable? Under-the-radar IT purchases undermine data security and put the entire organization at risk. While Gartner is urging us to shed the shackles of convention, where are the safeguards that don’t compromise the very compliance policies intended for our own good?

I’m all in favor of big hairy audacious goals, innovation and an atmosphere that fosters true experimentation. The stakes are high for the environment and for business as well. Survival depends on finding new solutions. Shadow IT flies in the face of safeguards established by IT asset management and IT asset disposition, and organizations need to find safe ways to experiment without putting the whole organization at risk.


Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT For Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics in the Circular Economy, with an emphasis on the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter at @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at

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